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AUdds and Ends: Wacky Wednesday

The three big stories of the day: Mike Blakely, Earnest Ross, and Russell Wilson.

In case you missed it, Wednesday was a busy day for Auburn athletics across the board, with fans welcoming new players, saying goodbye to others, and everything in between—not to mention the SEC baseball tournament action in Hoover. Here now are a few odds and ends (with links, thoughts, and quotes) from just an average day in what is supposed to be the dog days of the football offseason.

— Of course, the biggest news of the day was Mike Blakely’s transfer to Auburn. The Internet went up in a blaze Tuesday night with rumors that Blakely, who left Gainesville on May 10, would be headed to the Plains, and on Wednesday the news broke that he had officially enrolled in classes.

All of the credit in the world goes to Will Muschamp, who granted Blakely a full release, allowing him to transfer within the conference with no added penalty. Sure, the Gators will only have to play against Blakely during the regular season in one game when he is a redshirt freshman, and sure, it benefits Muschamp to keep the recruiting lines at Manatee open, but there’s a lot of coaches out there that probably wouldn’t have signed that release. Muschamp’s predecessor, for instance.

With the release granted, Blakely will just have to undergo standard transfer procedures, sitting out a year before being able to play. He’ll use his redshirt while he’s sitting out in 2011, and will have a full four years of eligibility starting in 2012. Blakely may have already been on course to redshirt in 2011 anyway, after arthroscopic shoulder surgery in January made him miss all of spring practice at Florida.

Blakely almost came to Auburn out of high school. The decision came down to the Tigers and the Gators. For whatever reasons, he ended up at Florida, but after the coaching change from Meyer to Muschamp, and the installation of the pro-style offense, turns out Gainesville wasn’t for him. When he returned to his hometown of Bradenton, Florida, the “what now?” choice was apparently clear, at least according to his high school coach Joe Kinnan describes:

“After Mike came back, he sat down with me and (Manatee assistant coach Rod Frazier), and we said, ‘What do you really want to do?'” Kinnan said. “He said, ‘Coach, I want to go to Auburn, I’ve always wanted to go to Auburn.'”

The four-star recruit and consensus top ten running back gives Auburn fans plenty of reasons for future excitement. He may have to wait his turn this season on the sidelines as a redshirt, but just the potential of a 2012 backfield made up of Dyer, McCalebb, Blakely, and Tre Mason will be well worth the wait. For now, we can just sit back and enjoy the highlights.

— However, the future of Auburn basketball just got a little less bright on Wednesday. As has been well documented, it seems that for every positive Auburn football action, there is an unequal, unfair, and unjust negative Auburn basketball reaction. While the football team added a player yesterday, the basketball team lost two when it was announced that Earnest Ross and Ty Armstrong were no longer with the team.

Auburn entered the summer nearing 15 players on scholarship—two higher than the roster limit of 13—so we knew there would be some attrition. Ross’s departure, however, is a complete surprise. Ross led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, scoring 13.1 points and pulling down 6.6 boards per game. He was the team’s most dynamic athlete and the Tigers’ best pure scorer, and as a rising junior was expected to return and become one of the leaders of this young squad.

Ross leaves behind him a huge void on the wing alongside Kenny Gabriel, and his departure sets Auburn’s scoring back even further. For a team already facing enough challenges heading into the 2011-2012 season, it will be a challenge to replace Ross’s output. But as far as his athleticism as a guard/forward, one option is transfer Noel Johnson. But he won’t even be able to try until he is cleared to play in January (after transferring to Auburn from Clemson midseason last year).

But at least we know that Ross left Auburn on his own terms, the decision being made by him and his family. Ross wasn’t recruited by Tony Barbee; sometimes things just don’t work out.

The silver lining, if there could be possibly be one in losing your team’s returning leading scorer and a valuable big man in Ty Armstrong, is that Auburn will now be in line with the roster limit of 13 when the fall signees arrive, and it appears that the attrition to the roster that we all anticipated this summer is, for the moment, complete. Gabriel, Neysmith, and Forbes will be seniors next season, and their departure after the year will open up three spots on the squad. One will be reserved for 2012 commitment Shaq Johnson, while Barbee will be able to work with the other two in recruiting. It doesn’t appear that anyone else is in any immediate danger of being shown the door as part of some severe overhaul. With any luck, the current players will perform and Barbee won’t even have to think about it.

Obviously we wish Ross and Armstrong nothing but the best of luck and we will be pulling for them. And, hey, if a coach was the reason for EJ’s departure, maybe we’ll see him end up in Happy Valley.

— One of the most fascinating stories of recent months has been Russell Wilson, and his search for a new team to play one last season of college football. And whether you’re on one side of the fence or the other, the debate and the rumors have certainly helped pass the time this offseason.

The story took a dramatic turn on Tuesday, when Auburn was once again vaulted into the Wilson discussion. Some reported that Wilson had flown into town for an interview and cram session with the Auburn coaching staff. Others said that it was just a quick pop in to hang out for a while. And some reported that Russell was never even in Auburn at all.

Things got even more interesting, and more complicated, when Wilson’s minor league baseball team, the Asheville Tourists, revealed that if Wilson missed part of the season for football, he would have to pay back a chunk of his signing bonus. Whether he’ll be willing (or even able) to do that remains to be seen. But another interesting tidbit from the article comes his baseball coach’s confirmation that a number of colleges are courting Wilson, not the other way around.

My official stance? I’ll believe Wilson is going to play for Auburn when I see him suited up and on the field. But you have to consider that these reports and rumors have been going on for a really long time, and they have to be coming from somewhere. A partnership here isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility: Auburn is still looking over its options at quarterback, hence the coaching staff not naming a starter after spring practice, and you have to wonder if a season on the Plains will help Wilson, who has been struggling this baseball season, rejuvenate his athletic career.

Regardless, it sure is fun to talk about.

— Meanwhile, on the same day that Auburn was shown interest by one transfer quarterback whose status is in limbo, former Michigan player Tate Forcier is apparently also looking at Auburn… which is interesting, because Forcier attributed his falling out with Miami to a desire to be closer to home, as “Miami is completely on the other side of the country.”

Now, Miami and Auburn aren’t exactly next door to each other, but to the San Diego native you would think it would all be relative. Either Tate was just making up reasons and excuses for the media, or he needs a map. Cue AUPPL: Here Be Dragons.

— In other recruiting news, four-star corner Joshua Holsey commited to Auburn on Tuesday, marking the coaching staff’s fifth current commitment during the young recruiting season. We’ll have more on Holsey soon, but for now Auburn fans are turning their attention to the next Auburn target set for an announcement, in four-star wide receiver JaQuay Williams. JaQuay is set to make a commitment announcement on Saturday, right in the middle of Big Cat Weekend.

And right, 2011 Big Cat Weekend is set for this weekend, which must mean that this week has been Big Cat Week. It certainly has been a busy one.

Photos via MaxPreps, Zimbio, and Orlando Sentinel.

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